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No need to upgrade from last year


iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple‘s four new iPhone 13 models hit stores on Friday.

Apple has the ability to continue its momentum built on last year’s huge 5G supercycle. It focused on battery life and cameras this year since that’s what buyers care about most. Apple also improved the displays and tucked in a few other upgrades — like expanded support for 5G in more places — that may help the phones appeal to a wider global audience who want faster data in markets like China, Australia and Japan.

The iPhone 12 introduced 5G last year and has the largest iPhone screen. This change is still not significant. For example, the iPhone 5s which introduced the fingerprint reader in 2013, and the iPhone 12 last year.

You don’t have to buy a new iPhone if your iPhone was purchased last year. Anyone with an iPhone 11 and older can still benefit from the many new features and parts available in new models. That means more than 250 million iPhone owners with phones that are more than 3 years old.

I’ve been testing all the new models — the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max — for the past several days. While I used all of them, the core of this review focuses on the Pro Max, because it’s the biggest and best — and most expensive — phone you can get from Apple today.

iPhone 13 Pro Max costs $1,099 for people who desire the most premium iPhone. It has the highest battery life, best cameras, and the largest display. It’s not likely to become the most-sold model Apple makes, as the iPhone 13 Pro Max is $300 cheaper and still has great features.

Let me walk you through all the options and assist you in deciding which one is best for you.

IPhone 13 Pro Max: What’s good

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is huge, with a screen that measures 6.7 inches diagonally.

This can be good or bad, depending on your expectations. You’ll be able to use the iPhone 13 Pro Max as a tablet or smartphone, and it will do all of your favorite things like watching TV, gaming, and other media.

It has a screen that is significantly larger than last year. The iPhone ProMotion display technology, introduced in 2017 on iPad Pro, is now available for the first time.

It can adapt to what is on the page, which helps to save battery life. It might not refresh as often if you are just browsing a webpage, which can save your battery life. It will refresh much faster if you are playing games or browsing through long pages. This is one of those features that you have to experience for yourself.

Videogames look great on the big screen

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Battery life is top-notch and lasts longer than any other iPhone on the market. iPhone 13 Pro Max will get you up and to sleep if you don’t play games long.

This is due to the combination of an upgraded processor, larger screen, and a larger battery. I streamed nine hours of movies, for example, with just over 50% brightness, and still had more than half the battery left. Apple says you can stream video for up to 25hrs. But I feel like I had a lot of fun streaming and not downloading. I also used my phone for other tasks.

Although the iPhone 12 Pro Max is much brighter, it also has a brighter screen.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple also updated the cameras. These lenses, along with the standard wide-angle and zoom lenses, can now take in more light. This makes them better for taking photos in dark conditions.

The HDR feature is also better in situations where your subject might have a lot of light behind them, which can normally make people in a picture look dark — all the iPhone 13 phones can keep color and detail even if the sun is right behind someone.

Here’s a shot of my dog Mabel:

A camera sample of my dog Mabel.

Todd Haselton, CNBC. The macro camera is great fun.| CNBC

The new macro camera option is a lot of fun. The macro camera allows you to capture great detail and get close enough to an object such as a blueberry or flower.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a macro function.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

The zoom was tested on a turtle.

Todd Haselton, CNBC. There are other options for cameras that you can use if you do more filming than I did.| CNBC

There are some other camera options that people who do a lot of filming will use more than I did. Cinematic Mode allows you to focus on one person and automatically change to the next. If you want to film someone speaking, Cinematic Mode allows you to keep that person in focus while blurring the background. The focus will then be switched when they start talking. These features are not used by me as I only film my son playing in the living room. Apple Pro customers can use this feature, though it’s limited to HD shooting and doesn’t support 4K.

iPhone 13 Pro Max features a new Cinematic mode.

CNBC There’s a ton of space to store all your stuff, too.| CNBC

There’s a ton of space to store all your stuff, too. Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max is available with 1TB storage. This price includes $500. This is roughly four times more storage than my MacBook Air, and twice the amount of storage available for last year. This is not something most people need, but it may be useful for professionals who store a lot of 4K video.

It is also durable, just like the iPhone 13 Pro Max last year. The iPhone 13 Pro Max is water-resistant and can be dropped into a pool. It also features the same tough glass and steel front and back that the iPhone 13 Pro, and the iPhone 13 Pro last year. It can take quite a beating, as I have seen from last year. Although the screen is not as scratchy as before, it still scratches easily.

IPhone 13 Pro Max: What’s bad

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 13 Pro

Todd Haselton | CNBC

It’s huge. It’s also heavier than the last year.

Big-screen phones were my favorite when I was on the road more. But now that I’m at home, I prefer a smaller phone — I turn to an iPad for movies. It’s awkward to hold the iPhone 13 Pro Max in bed if you have one hand. I can’t even fit it in my running belt because of its size and weight. My iPhone 12 Pro Max has been dropped numerous times as I tried to figure out how it works.

While the ProMotion display works fine, there were some issues in Spotify apps. Certain menu options appear to be displaying slightly faster than normal. It’s possible that most people don’t even notice this. Also, I found GIFs on a chat app that played slowly. These issues will likely be corrected as the apps are optimized for the new screens. 

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Todd Haselton | CNBC

I’d also like to see Apple improve other areas. USB-C charging could be used to charge the phone. This would allow me to carry just one cable for my iPad, iPhone and Mac. The iPhone instead uses an older Lightning port. Other fun Android features I would like to see include reverse wireless charging. My AirPods could be dropped on top of my iPhone and charged up. But Apple would need to perfect this: It’s not power-efficient on Android phones — you often lose more battery life than you’re giving to the gadget you’re charging — and can be too slow to even bother with.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Todd Haselton | CNBC

All the iPhone 13 models have 5G, but there’s little reason to upgrade for that right now. While most of us remain at home with Wi-Fi, it is unclear when we will be moving out into the real world. You’ll have 5G to speed up downloads and stream games. However, this isn’t a good reason to upgrade.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Todd Haselton | CNBC

IPhone 13 Pro: Same phone, smaller screen 

Apple iPhone 13 Pro

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone 13 Pro, which starts at $999, is effectively the same phone as the iPhone 13 Pro Max, with slightly less battery life and a smaller 6.1-inch screen. The fancy, high-refresh rate display is still available. Cameras are identical. The iPhone 12 Pro Max Max had superior cameras last year than the Pro.

While the battery life may be a bit less than expected, it is still quite solid. My tests showed that I could get six hours screen time, mostly through mixed-usage, but also playing three movies, with 28% remaining battery life. A majority of users should be capable of using the phone for a full day.

Get this model if you want the latest phone technology by Apple, but not a huge screen.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Todd Haselton | CNBC

IPhone 13: What’s missing?

Apple iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone 13, which starts at $799, is a solid phone, but lacks the most advanced features found in the Pro models.

Here are the main differences:

  • No new ProMotion display. The display’s brightness is higher than it was last year. This makes it easier to see outside in the sun.
  • The storage limit is now 512GB, instead of the 1TB.
  • No dedicated zoom camera. 
  • Although the battery life is still better than last year’s, it has been reduced. 
  • There is one less GPU core to support video rendering and gaming, but most users won’t be able to notice the difference.
  • During normal use, the screens are brighter than Pro models but they’re not as bright.

Apple still made many improvements to its iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models, including an increase in storage (to 128GB), new cameras and improved battery life. They also added brighter screens, a faster processor and support for 5G in more countries.

Apple iPhone 13

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The cameras in particular were upgraded from the iPhone 12 for improved night pictures and better HDR (shots when it’s really light behind your subject come out better, for example). The cameras also have Cinematic Mode support, however they don’t offer as much as the Pro models.

IPhone 13 Mini: The little guy

Apple iPhone 13 mini

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone 13 Mini, which starts at $699, is virtually identical to the iPhone 13 except for battery life and screen size.

iPhone 13’s screen is 6.1 inches, while iPhone 13 Mini only has a screen of 5.4 inches. Last year, I didn’t like the Mini’s small size because I was assuming we’d get out of Covid lockdown quickly and I wanted a bigger screen as well as longer battery life.

Now, my lifestyle has changed and I absolutely love the iPhone 13 Mini. You can easily slip it into your running belt.

However, I am still worried about the battery life. Apple states that it will stream for 13 hours. However, my battery lasted 4 hours and 13 seconds before it dropped to 50%. This included three hours screen off time while background tasks such as photo uploads continued to run. For those who are going to be traveling a lot, it is worth having a spare battery.

What one should you choose?

This year, I prefer the iPhone13 Mini because of its small size. But for most people, the regular iPhone 13 is the best choice — just like the iPhone 12 last year. The best combination of features, screen sizes, prices, and battery life is the iPhone 13. 

All iPhone 13 models have minor upgrades from last year and there is no need to update from iPhone 12. If you have an iPhone 11 or older, however, you will love the updated design and the improved battery life, nicer screens, and the increased cameras.